By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
Contraband isn’t just about counterfeit. It is counterfeit.
That’s because this remake of the 2009 Icelandic crime thriller Reykjavik-Rotterdam appears to be a cerebral caper flick but is in actuality a sluggish action thriller.
Set in New Orleans, it centers on the predicament of one Chris Farrady, a legendary high-seas smuggler played by Mark Wahlberg, who is trying desperately to leave the dangerous, high-stakes world of international smuggling behind in the name of protecting his family (his wife, played by Kate Beckinsale, and their two young sons) and run his legitimate business installing security systems.
When his brother-in-law (Caleb Landry Jones) messes up a drug deal, his ruthless boss, a drug lord played by Giovanni Ribisi, forces Chris back into the underground life by demanding that he once again run contraband as a way of settling his brother-in-law’s debt.
With the help of his best friend and fellow smuggler, played by Ben Foster, Chris rounds up a crew and heads for Panama City in search of millions in counterfeit bills, which he’ll then (mission impossible alert!) sneak into the Port of New Orleans.
But things go wrong — surprise, surprise — and his three loved ones become targets.
The director, Baltasar Kormakur, who is also one of the producers, starred in and produced the original version. Here, as a director, he indulges in distractingly shaky handheld camerawork and antsy editing, cheats shamelessly on the narrative timeline, and spends far too much time on obligatory action scenes that stop his film dead it its tracks.
Sometimes the film seems more about shooting than smuggling.
The how-will-they-manage details, with pieces of the puzzle gradually revealed, are by far the film’s best feature. Yet the director, not trusting his subject matter, finds it necessary to litter the landscape with macho posturing and car crashes and gunfights.
Worse, he trusts the inherent drama of the subject matter so little that he has a character stick a gun in the face of small children for no good reason and brutally beat up a woman for even less of one. Sadists in the audience ought to love it.
The script by Aaron Guzikowski, based on the screenplay for Reykjavik-Rotterdam, certainly has an abundance of plot, and manges to get us rooting for the smugglers by trotting out the hoary one-last-score-or-we’ll-do-something-dastardly-to-you device, which we could live with more easily if there weren’t also so many iceberg-sized plot holes and nonsensically arbitrary behaviors.
As in a goodly number of his starring vehicles (The Fighter, The Departed, The Italian Job, Max Payne, Four Brothers, We Own the Night, Shooter), Wahlberg — who is also one of the film’s producers — plays a reluctant, resourceful, tough guy.
True, he stays well within his comfort zone — and takes a giant step back from 2010’s Oscar-celebrated The Fighter, which he starred in and produced — but he is undeniably and effortlessly effective there.
So we’ll counterfeit Contraband with 2 stars out of 4, which makes the grade for this smuggling thriller on the high seas a “high C.”